When something outside the body hits the head with significant force, or when the brain itself is impacted internally as a result of severe whiplash, it can result in traumatic brain injury (TBI). This often results in a loss of consciousness at the scene of the accident which can be dangerous and calls for additional medical care.
Unfortunately, many assume that once a person has been sent home there is nothing else to worry about. This can be a very dangerous assumption since any significant trauma to the head can have long-term effects which are subtle and debilitating, and can last months or even years after the original accident.
Severe symptoms require immediate medical care, and can include: persistent headaches; balance problems; intermittent nausea; excessive sleepiness; slurred speech; vomiting; and confusion. These symptoms should be obvious to most people, and if observed, the injured person must consult with a physician as soon as possible. But there are other, more subtle symptoms which can be just as important but are often overlooked. These symptoms could indicate long-term problems that may increase with time.
Family members and loved ones should watch out for the following symptoms which could be indicative of long-term problems from a head injury:
This is a big one and could be one of the more detrimental long-term effects. The brain is a very delicate organ and how it is affected can vary depending on the type of head injury and the specific location of impact. For example, a blow to the frontal region might result in an person being more risk-prone than usual, or having trouble inhibiting certain behaviors that were kept under control prior to the injury.
Other changes could involve the emotions. The person may be less affectionate and more analytical than before. They may exhibit interests and behaviors that would have been foreign to them before the accident. The long-term effects of a brain injury can vary widely. The bottom line is that if the person is different after the accident in terms of behavior, emotional disposition, or general outlook, it warrants a follow-up with a medical professional.
It is natural for a person to be exhausted immediately after suffering a TBI. But if this general lethargy and exhaustion (mental and/or physical) continues after the body begins to heal, it is an indication of lingering TBI problems. Changes in sleep patterns are especially important in determining these sorts of after-effects. Sluggishness and general apathy are also indicators of potential long-term problems.
This symptom can be acute or subtle. Badly blurred vision after an accident is an obvious sign of a problem, and will usually be noted soon after the accident. Subtle vision changes are often ignored by the patient, but may actually be a sign of acute long-term problems from a head injury. If the person has trouble reading up close, or has more limited long-range vision, it could be a direct result of the head injury. Field of vision problems should be addressed immediately due to related problems they may cause like increased susceptibility to accidents.
After a head injury, some memory problems are to be expected. But when they linger past the normal recovery period, it could be an indication of a more substantive injury than originally diagnosed. Forgetfulness, inability to recall names or places, worsened short-term recall, etc., are symptoms of TBI. All of these can be signs of potential long-term damage to the brain’s ability to process and retain information.
Syncope or Balance Disorders
Oftentimes, there is a lingering predisposition to fainting which becomes apparent after the accident. Fainting typically occurs when there is a disruption of the blood flow to the brain. This symptom often presents with lethargy and an increase in sleeping hours. Each of these symptoms can be caused by inadequate blood flow to the brain.
Altered Taste and Smell
The olfactory organs are very sensitive and can easily be damaged by moderate head trauma. The symptoms may not be obvious at first. But over time, the person may note changes in tastes or smells. There are many possible causes for these problems, and it takes a thorough medical examination to determine the underlying problem and whether or not it is treatable.
Numbness or Tingling Sensation
After a head trauma, there may be lingering sensation of “pins” or “needles” in certain areas of the body. This can be a symptom of a nerve disorder, or it could be related to actual damage to certain areas of the brain. These symptoms often occur predominantly on one side of the body due to the way the brain splits control of the nervous system between hemispheres.
Any accident resulting in head trauma requires medical attention. The lingering after-effects can be lifelong, and are often extremely debilitating. The best asset for recovery is a good friend or family member who can help watch for lingering signs the injured person may be unable to identify on their own. If you know someone who has experienced a head trauma due to an accident, be sure to ask the right questions and watch them closely. It could make the difference between long-term problems and a successful recovery.